Reviewed: October 14, 2008
Released: September 23, 2008
As a self-proclaimed enthusiast of both World War II era shooters like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor, and team-based tactical military titles like Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon – I have always felt like a chump for never having picked up one of Ubisoft’s Brothers In Arms game.
It’s not like I have not picked up those discs a dozen or more times with thoughts of plunking down a few greenbacks to experience the Ghost Recon-meets-WWII gameplay, but with the responsibilities of this site, it is often impossible to find time to play the games that have not been assigned for review.
Well, with this newest generation of consoles, we have the first Brothers in Arms release in Brother in Arms: Hell’s Highway – which is currently released for both the PS3 and Xbox 360. I took on the PS3 responsibilities, and I could not be happier as Hell’s Highway is one of the better FPS’s on the console and a great way to warm up for the upcoming Resistance 2.
The game starts by placing the gamer in the role of Staff Sergeant Matt Baker of the 101st Airborne Division (502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment). While fans of the series will recognize the members of the 101st as the characters from the two prior releases, new players (like myself) will have no issue stepping into the shoes of Sgt. Baker as he and his troops are dropped behind enemy lines near Eindhoven, The Netherlands, on a mission to secure the Eindhoven bridge as part of 1944’s Operation Market Garden.
Brothers in Arms shares a lot of the tactical gameplay elements that make fellow Ubisoft franchises Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon so enjoyable. With a heavy emphasis on squad-based play, obtaining cover, and enemy suppression and flanking – vets of the aforementioned titles will swiftly fall into line with the troops of the 101st. But unlike those titles, Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway does not render these unique gameplay elements as optional – but rather makes requires their use for progression of the game.
Absent is the ability to go “lone wolf” on Hell’s Highway – gamers will need to become proficient with the game’s relatively-intuitive order calling system in which Sgt. Baker must command up to four specialized “teams” consisting of Assault Team, Machine Gun (MG) Team, Fire Team, and Bazooka Team. Each team can be called up using the directional pad, and then sent to a location using a Rainbow Six-style vision-based cursor.
Teams can then be ordered to suppress particular enemy squads until their suppression icons have turned from red to grey. Once the enemy has been suppressed, the enemy can be flanked via one of the many pre-determined flanking lines, and the enemy dispatched.
If it sounds like a lot of work – well it is – falling somewhere between the syrupy goodness of Rainbow Six and the uber-detailed simulation aspects of Full Spectrum Warrior. The game is one of the first to put such importance on maintaining your teammates in order to complete the mission – it can be done without them, but it will be a ton harder. Given the fact that the AI characters move and react in a surprisingly realistic manner – buffaloing their way through enemy fire, digging in deep to avoid shrapnel, even stumbling and tripping over obstacles and debris – it fosters a certain level of bonding between the player and the teammates that is a bit more personal than the cannon fodder meat shields of GRAW and Rainbow Six.
Visually, the game looks pretty darn good – definitely achieving more than its fair share from of the famed Unreal Engine 3. The result is a bright and colorful palette, highly detailed countryside scenes, and fantastic character models. The facial mapping is some of the best yet seen in any game thus far – and actually appears to be employing something similar to Rainbow Six’s custom face mapping, in which an actual photo gets virtually stretched over the wire-frame model of the head. It is still nearly impossible to distinguish one character from another based on looks alone, but that has more to do with the choice of faces used, than it does with the technology itself.
Likewise, the sound quality is top-notch, with some of the better voice acting to be found in any title. It is quite apparent that the developers wanted to achieve a level of realism and drama similar to film or television miniseries, and went above and beyond by hiring professional voice talent to deliver the engaging screenplay.
The overall presentation is a definite nod to the likes of WWII films like Saving Private Ryan and A Bridge Too Far, as well as HBO’s highly lauded Band of Brothers miniseries. In fact, one of my few issues with he game comes from the overly dramatic cinematic scenes between missions – some of which top out at the ten minute mark, with no option for skipping or advancing to the next mission. While they might help build a sense of story as the game progresses along, they tend to do more harm than good by breaking the momentum.
On the technical aspects, the game supports HTDV in a native 720p widescreen format, and delivers sound in true Dolby 5.1 surround sound. The game supports the vibration functions of the Sony’s DualShock 3, which definitely adds a sense of tactile gratification over the previous SIXAXIS.
Fans of Rainbow Six and/or Ghost Recon will be disappointed to find out that the game does not support cooperative online play, with the only online gameplay coming in the form of Battlefield-style team-based skirmishes. Not that the flag-raising gameplay is not enjoyable – but there is a sect of gamers (like myself) who would definitely like to experience co-op play in the European theater utilizing WWII-era weaponry.
Overall, Brother In Arms: Hell’s Highway is a great addition to the PS3 library – and is definitely a solid holiday option for FPS fans and WWII buffs alike. The game’s strategy-based team ordering will definitely take some getting used to, but gamers who master the game’s mechanics will definitely find a sense of accomplishment in Hell’s Highway.